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As the Japanese sweep through the East Indies during World War II, Dr. Wassell is determined to escape from Java with some crewmen of the cruiser Marblehead. Based on a true story of how Dr. Wassell saved a dozen or so wounded sailors who were left behind when able bodied men were evacuated to Australia. Written by
Ron Kerrigan <email@example.com>
Gary Cooper has the title role in "The Story of Dr. Wassell," a fact-based 1944 film directed by Cecil B. DeMille and also starring Laraine Day, Dennis O'Keefe, Signe Hasso, and Elliott Reid. During World War II, a naval doctor tries to evacuate soldiers from the East Indies as the Japanese are approaching. He insists upon taking the wounded on a transport ship, the Pecos, even though it is against orders. In the end, he is not able to do it. Wassell stays with his soldiers, all of whom assume they will die on Java. But the doctor won't give up. Along the way, we learn of his life in China and the woman (Day) that he loved.
"The Story of Dr. Wassell" is a little long and gets off to a slow start, but holds up thanks to Gary Cooper and the audience's involvement with some of the well-drawn supporting characters. By the time the movie is over, you feel like you've been in the war with them. I'm not sure if that's due to the length of the film or what the soldiers went through.
Cooper was about 43 years old when this film was made, yet he still retained that boyish smile of his. I've never figured out if he was a great actor or not; he was so outrageously handsome, I just can't stop staring at him. He didn't have James Stewart's range, Bogart's timing or Wayne's biting voice, but there was something very solid about him, as well as virile, likable, and magnetic. He also has a no-nonsense way of portraying a character, kind of cutting to the chase, and his performance really carries this film. Laraine Day doesn't have a very big role - in fact, she's wasted. The movie does provide a showy role for Dennis O'Keefe (who replaced Alan Ladd) and Signe Hasso, a very good actress often relegated to B films. O'Keefe plays a wounded soldier named Hoppy - and if you see this film, don't turn it off when you see "The End" because Mr. DeMille actually has an update about him.
The script could have been tighter, but "The Story of Dr. Wassell" is good entertainment, maybe a little dated, but nevertheless the story of a real-life hero who deservedly won the Purple Heart.
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